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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, September 22, 2011

Vegetables from flooded gardens should be turned to compost now

By Saranac Hale Spencer

Backyard vegetable gardens were not spared during the recent tropical storms Irene and Lee, which brought floodwaters that could have carried pathogens, pesticides, or heavy metals.

Vegetable gardens affected by the recent flooding should be harvested and the produce should be composted, according to Marvin Pritts, a professor in the Plant Science department at Cornell University.  Some flooding, if it originates from a contained area and doesn’t have water that has traveled from unknown sources, won’t render the vegetables inedible.  However, the type of flooding that has engulfed the Capital Region has likely made flooded produce unsafe to eat.

“You have to assume the worst,” Pritts said of produce that has been flooded.

Rather than throwing it out, the produce can be composted and used on the garden the following year, Pritts said.  The pesticides and pathogens won’t remain, he explained, since the composting process heats up the biomass to a high enough temperature to break up the chemical compounds and kill the bacteria.

New flowers that develop after the flood on a tomato plant, for example, and later produce tomatoes are fine to eat, he said.

Vegetables are generally less tolerant of flooding, Pritts said, explaining that woody plants, like blueberries, are heartier.  Woody plants, though, can be susceptible to root eating fungus that can grow in wet soil conditions that follow flooding.

Gardening in raised beds is the best way to avoid fungal growth after a flood because the water can easily drain out and the soil can dry faster than it would at ground level, Pritts said.

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